I see that of these
Jambudvīpa sentient beings [here],
with their raising of minds and moving of thoughts,
none are not with transgressions.
– Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva
Is practising the Dharma in a defiled land (秽土) easier and superior to practising in a Pure Land (净土)? It is indeed more swiftly meritorious if, and only if successfully practising in a defiled land (here), within the same duration of time, versus in a Pure Land. However, it is to the same extent much more difficult to practise, due to many more distractions and karmic obstacles ripening here – which is also why it is more meritorious, having more problems to overcome. Due to the challenges above, it is also proportionally easier to create more negative karma here. Thus is it wise to seek birth in a Pure Land.
If it is easier to practise in defiled lands, or harder to practise in Pure Lands, Buddhas would neither create Pure Lands nor recommend birth in them. Buddhas ought to make worlds more defiled to ‘expedite’ everyone’s practice instead. Of course, no Buddhas will do that, while all do create and recommend Pure Lands, with the most often recommended one being Amitābha Buddha’s (阿弥陀佛) Land Of Ultimate Bliss (极乐世界), as it is the easiest to enter, while interconnected to all other Pure Lands.
In the Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》, Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) taught that meritorious virtues (功德: merits) from observing the Eight Precepts (八戒) purely for one day and one night (一日一夜) in a defiled land is more than that cultivated for one hundred years in Pure Land –「正心正意，斋戒清净，一日一夜，胜在无量寿国为善百岁。」‘With the right mind and right thought [without evil, observing the eight] purification precepts purely, for one day and one night [in this Sahā World], this is superior to, in the Immeasurable Life Buddha’s Pure Land practising good for one hundred years.’
Thus, the ratio of merits for ‘defiled land practice : Pure Land practice’ is ‘1 day : 100 years × 365 days (i.e. 36,500 days)’ or ‘1 : 36,500’. This also means it is 36,500 times harder to practise successfully in a defiled land. The Buddha also cautioned that it is extremely difficult to practise in this world, due to its many ongoing evils –「唯此间多恶，无有自然。勤苦求欲，转相欺殆。心劳形困，饮苦食毒。如是恶务，未尝宁息。」‘Only this [Sahā] World is with [so] many evils, without [sentient beings] having [blessed virtues (福德)] naturally. With working hard to seek [fulfilment of] desires, cheating one another. With minds weary and bodies tired, drinking suffering and eating poisons. Such evil matters, have not yet once peacefully ceased.’
Challenging as it is, since we are already in this defiled land, we should all the more not give in to its evil influences, by doing our best to cultivate diligently. We must treasure this short life’s opportunities to create as much merits as we can, before reaching Pure Land, to further and perfect our learning and practice. Referring to the ratio again, we thus have more than 36,500 good reasons to reach Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land, to most swiftly expedite our progress towards Buddhahood. The other most excellent reasons are within the boundless benefits upon reaching there, as summarised in Amitābha Buddha’s 48 great vows (四十八大愿).
Having reached Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land, we can also manifest in defiled lands to accumulate more merits by guiding beings (without risk of being negatively influenced), and return to his Pure Land to accumulate more wisdom (by learning from him and other enlightened ones), toggling to and fro with ease. This is how both merits and wisdom can be cultivated (福慧双修) most swiftly. It is also the way to most fully and skilfully utilise the above teachings by the Buddha, making the best of both Pure Lands and defiled lands, with purifying of the defiled.
If departed [from transgressions to] obtain good benefits,
many retrogress from their initial resolve.
If they encounter evil conditions,
thought after thought, they will increase.
– Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva
Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva On Evil In This Evil
Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva’s Link With Āmítuófó
Attainments Offered By Amitābha Buddha’s 48 Great Vows
Structured Categorisation Of Āmítuófó’s 48 Vows